Altering the Course of History for Women and Girls Around the World, with Latanya Mapp Frett, President and CEO of Global Fund for Women
Today we are going on record with Latanya Mapp Frett, President and CEO of Global Fund for Women, which works to strengthen gender justice movements to shift power, privilege, and perception and create meaningful change that will last beyond our lifetimes. As a feminist fund, Global Fund for Women offers flexible support to a diverse group of partners—more than 5,000 groups across 175 countries so far.
Prior to joining Global Fund For Women, Latanya was the Executive Director of Planned Parenthood Global, the international arm of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She worked for eight years as a human rights officer for the United Nations Children’s Fund (also known as UNICEF) and for 10 years with the United States Agency for International Development. She served as a delegate to the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 and continues to fight for the human rights of women.
An attorney by training, she began her career at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund in Washington, DC. She has received many honors and awards, including two Esteemed Meritorious Honor Awards from the U.S. government and the highest honor in civil service, the Superior Honor Award, from the U.S. State Department. She was one of 30 Foreign Service Officers honored with the Colin Powell Fellowship by then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Latanya is a Woodrow Wilson Fellow and author of four U.N. human rights reports and manuals. She is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer and Alum of ICAP. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She holds a bachelor of arts in government and politics, a master’s in public policy, and a JD from the University of Maryland.
Jennifer Simpson Carr: Welcome Latanya, we’re so happy to have you on the show.
Latanya Mapp Frett: Thank you so much, Jen. It’s a pleasure to be here with you.
Could you tell us about the mission of the Global Fund for Women?
Absolutely. I’m happy to. And thank you for the opportunity to be on this podcast. It’s so important for us in the work that we do to make sure people are both giving at home, but also remembering so many of our sisters overseas who are experiencing not just challenges, but also moments of innovation where they get work done. And I say that because the Global Fund for Women does fund, it funds very bold, grassroots, gender justice movements and organizations around the world. Our whole thing is how can we create meaningful change that will last beyond our lifetime. Now in this moment, when we’re talking about systemic change for justice, it really is the moment that we live in, and we feel like we were built for this moment. We have a network of around 5,000 grantees around the world in a 176 countries.
We, in addition to that, pride ourself to being partners in philanthropy with so many individual badass women, but also institutional donors and government donors. And altogether, we work really to radically alter the course of history for women and girls, and make sure that marginalized groups and communities participate in their own development. And so just, when I came to this organization it’s just such a pleasure to be here, it’s like one of these spaces you never thought you get to, and then you end up, and you’re like, this was exactly where I was supposed to be, this is why everything that happened, happened in my life. But we have started now since I’ve been here to double down on gender justice movements to transform power and privilege. And what we’re talking about there is the collective action that so many of us has seen since COVID, so that we can really transform what is this power and privilege for a few, and to what we hope to be equity and equality for all. So that’s where we stand for gender justice at Global Fund for Women.
Jennifer Simpson Carr: You’ve touched on so many things that I want to talk to you about.
Could you tell us a little bit more about your journey to becoming the president and CEO of the Global Fund for Women?
I’m an attorney by profession. I went to law school at University of Maryland. And I got out, and one of the first things that I did was go to work for NAACP Legal Defense Fund in Washington, DC, under Elaine Jones. And it was an intern, externship type of thing. And it really set me up to understand not just the court side of it, which had been my focus all during law school, but also the policy side and how changing the laws go hand in hand with enforcing them through the courts. And so I started to really bring together my public policy degree with my law degree, and started thinking about how I show up in a space where we’re not just fighting bad laws, but where we’re creating good laws for the future that we want.
I went to work for the Legal Resources Center in South Africa, and it was really my first sojourn into doing work overseas, where I learned so many different opportunities. One of them was an introduction to the United Nation system, of which I began to work and did for some times as a human rights officer. And I worked, in addition to Southern Africa, I also worked in Ethiopia and Pakistan. So it also gave me this really cool vantage point of seeing what was happening around the world, and because my job was really a protection officer in some ways, to work with governments and other bodies to ensure protection of vulnerable groups, of course, I was always given the task of being the gender officer in that office, in that country, and in sometimes the region. And so that really started me to be able to express what it means to eliminate discrimination against women.
It also, I think my time at the, because we’re now in the 26-year anniversary of Beijing, I actually worked as a delegate to the UN World Conference. And it was an amazing opportunity and it set me up, and that’s why I said where I ended up was where I began, for always in all the work that I did, to really look at more marginalized populations and women always having some space, but also as a gender officer sometimes there were issues around men and boys also that came under my purview of programming. And when I left the UN, I went to work for the US government through USAID, I was a foreign service officer for some years. And then I went into, I left there after Arab Spring, just could not, I did five countries and my kids would not tolerate me moving one more time.
I went to work for Planned Parenthood, which was almost in many ways I thought my dream job. First of all, I worked for Cecile Richards, who is just an amazing, incredible woman, and her mother, who was the governor of Texas. And so there was so much wrapped up in just having that exposure and experience, but also running their international program allowed me to really hone in on a specific area, which was women’s health, and how that fared for so many women around the world. And I probably don’t need to tell people that are listening to this, the opposition that we see in the United States is fierce and intense, but I think in other places where access is more of a challenge, it’s even worse. So once I ended up at Planned Parenthood, then full circle, I saw this job and got it, and have been here for about a year and a half living in San Francisco.
Jennifer Simpson Carr: That’s fantastic. Thank you for sharing that journey. You have done incredible work, and as I said in your biography, when I was introducing you, you’ve received so many honors and awards. I don’t know that you could pick just one, but:
Is there an accomplishment that you’re most proud of?
Wow. So, I’ll step back and say probably raising two kids, and one of them a girl, but I think probably the more feminist of the two is my boy. So, it’s been a real challenge, he’s actually 21, so I can’t even call him a boy anymore, but I do think it allows you to almost practice your values when you have children. And so much of it is trying to see what a better world we could have once you start seeing your children pick up some of those values and do those things that you’ve talked about with them for so long, and internalize them, and talk about a better world. So for me, it’s definitely been my children. And I also have a daughter who is, she’s 15 now, she’s going on 16, and experiencing this COVID world and looking at injustice through a lens that, to be quite honest, I never thought she would be able to get to and experience on her own, but now that she’s in it, she’s really become an advocate through her arts around this work, particularly gender justice.
Those are my most proudest because everything else, if you think about it, is work that I really have the privilege of watching, not so much doing. All of the work that I’ve done has been really to facilitate and open up doors and gates and avenues for so many incredible women and men around the world who are already just trying to do the most amazing things with the limited resources they have.
That’s wonderful, and as a mother I can totally appreciate what an accomplishment it is to raise what we believe are great kids, who are in touch with the world. What you mentioned actually brings me to one of my questions, which is:
In your role, how have you seen COVID-19 impact women and girls around the globe?
The inequities that we’re really having to challenge ourselves with during this period are not specific to the US, it is worldwide, and that’s because the challenges around inequities have been around for a long time. They didn’t start with COVID, and unfortunately they won’t end with COVID, but here’s the joy, it’s been, at Global Fund for Women, I think I was here maybe nine months before COVID came. And I was in a meeting in London when we really got the lockdown notice and everyone should go home. The first thing we did was we wanted to make sure our grantee partners were aware of what was happening, because the information flow was just so limited at the time. Second, was to help them to understand that the funding that they received through Global Fund for Women and from our resource partners, that they would be able to pivot and do with those funds and resources what they needed to do to support their communities.
It was a real eye-opening experience to watch just how agile they were, just from things like opening up community sinks, so we’re providing soap at these community sinks, because we had a world now that was telling them, well, you need to social distance, which was difficult for many people that we work with because some of them live in households of four generations, and certainly in communities where social distancing is not a very easy thing to understand. It’s not even easy to translate in some of their languages, but that was the other piece. A lot of the information on the public health information was coming out in very limited languages. Some of the governments were taking a long time to try to even understand what was happening, and so that translation was happening by women’s groups around the world.
They were getting the messages out about mask, about hand sanitizers, providing those to their communities, and doing it with resources that they had planned to do something else with, but to be frank if they hadn’t, then they would have been so slow to be able to respond. So really our work has been the COVID to really allow a place to think about what was required, and that’s where you came up with, well, we didn’t come up with it, but a lot of our partners in different parts of the world that weren’t even talking to each other realized very quickly that women and girls coming home from schools and other places, were now in environment that may not have been so healthy. And I’m not talking about the actual pandemic, I’m talking about violence and other gender-based issues that were happening in the home.
You’ve seen a lot of hotlines set up, so women have some place to call and talk and get some resources. We saw literally houses being set up for women and girls who could not stay in their homes. Then you saw so much advocacy happening, I don’t know if you remember the lady in Uganda, she’s the Global Fund for Women partner who was out in the street literally protesting the food distribution during the time because many women they go to market every day and get their food, they’re not sitting with big freezers in their home with food stocked up. And so the food instability issue was one that I was so proud to see that so many women’s organizations really tackled quickly, and in my opinion, successfully, to try to get their governments and their communities and the leadership organized around how to respond.
But then there’s the, of course, the response, and then there’s the resiliency that we have to continue to work with organizations on, because that is the piece were, we know how agile women’s groups are, but when you look at the resources that go to these groups, it’s less than 0.1% of what the development spectrum looks like. What is given through philanthropy, through governments and others, and corporates, very little of that, almost nothing, goes to women’s groups, especially those in marginalized communities around the world. So that is really where our head has been for COVID-19, is that we’ve seen an amazing response and we just want to make sure that these women continue to get resources to ensure resiliency, to ensure advocacy happens around vaccines even. So that is, I think, and COVID has really, in my opinion, has shown the inequities, and I think that the, should I say the stakeholders, those that have been doing the work have really stood up in amazing ways despite the challenges that they’ve been living with, not because of COVID, but forever, and particularly during COVID.
Jennifer Simpson Carr: You’ve mentioned some incredible work such as translating, sanitization efforts, making access available to housing for women who may be experiencing violence, or food insecurity. This brings me to a question about the power of grassroots movements. It sounds like it’s incredibly impactful and perhaps the nuanced challenges that are faced in different parts of the world can be addressed in this way.
Please tell me what you believe is the power of the grassroots movement?
In some ways it’s easy. I was talking to the founder of Global Fund for Women, Anne Firth Murray, she’s one of the women, and she was the founding executive director. We talked about this phenomenally foreign concept of just putting the money in the hand of women, trusting that they know what to do because they have shown that they do, and they have shown that those resources often, way more often than if you put them in the hands of particularly male led organizations, are going to go directly into the community. They’re going to go directly into programs for children first and foremost, programs for health, programs for education. And so this is proven. Another thing that has been proven since the organization started, and through people like Laurel Weldon, is that social movements are really the only, and we’re talking about grassroots led social movements not online campaign movement, but grassroots, particularly women led movements, are one of the most often cited reasons for sustainable social and political change.
She looked at a ton of factors of what led to some big changes, whether that was political, or social, or cultural, and we saw there was always a gender based movement underlying it, a grassroots, local movement, led by some wonderful champion, the example of Leymah Gbowee in Liberia, if you remember her taking those buses of women over to Ghana, to Accra, and chaining themselves around the building until the peace process to end the war in Liberia was agreed on. That was funded by Global Fund for Women. And that’s what, for me, those are the moments, and I see it every day, right now we’re seeing it with Black Lives Matter, with Me Too, and so many other women led social movements that the impact is so phenomenal, is so sustainable that it has to be supported. It has to be, without question, given flexibility. We have to give these movements core funds to do the work that they do because they come with the changes that lasts a lifetime for, well beyond a lifetime for sure.
I would also say though, that grassroots movements, in my opinion, in my work that I’ve done over the last almost 30 years now, really get to the cornerstone of intersectionality. And so that’s coined by Kim Crenshaw, but it is this idea that you can’t silo the work that is being done in the communities. You can’t say, Oh, here’s some resources for HIV/AIDS, but don’t do women’s health, don’t do infant health, just do HIV/AIDS in your organization and in your community. And there’s just the pushback that comes is because women know that we don’t live sectional lives, right? We do all of it. We all have to do all of it. So we have to get the kids to the doctors. We have to get the kids to the school. We have to educate ourselves. We have to take care of the house. We got to get to the job. So all of those things that are relevant. We can’t just say we’re going to do one thing.
I think value of having grassroots led movements is because they understand very well this intersectionality and can do programs on food security the same time they’re doing programs on women’s health, and at the same time that they’re down at the PTSA at their schools trying to fix what’s happening at the schools. So, for me, this privilege that comes with being very sectional doesn’t exist very much at the community level. There is very much a need for them to create solutions that cut across the board, as well as, I think, tackling those issues during the time when it’s most important, because that’s the other thing we don’t know over here where we’re usually in the global North, we have the solution privilege, right? So we can come up with stuff and then we roll it out slowly and methodically, and use all this monitoring and evaluation language and lingo where people in the community they know what needs to be done and when it needs to be done, and when it’s most important to have resources to do it.
Could you tell us why access to technology is crucial for girls and women worldwide, and the work that Global Fund for Women has done to support access?
Thank you. That’s a great question, and although I’ve been a little bit of a techie, it’s probably just like everyone else in the world, we’re just living in a technology age. Right? But coming to Global Fund for Women, it’s been interesting for us. We’re right now serving in partnership, leading the Action Coalition for Women in Tech and Innovation with the Generation Equality Forum, which is a process that the United Nations Women Organization is doing in celebration of Beijing’s 25th and now 26th anniversary. And trying to bring attention to, and commitment to doing work that will hopefully push us further ahead around gender equality than we have been. I’m sure, like everyone else, you’ve heard some of the startling statistics that it’s going to take us something like 200 years to get to gender equality because of the way we’ve been moving. So we’re hoping that this will speed us up.
And one of the six areas of which they’re focusing is on technology and innovation for women. And then we took a step back because we’ve been so focused on social movements just to look and see how social movements around the world, particularly social movements around gender justice are fairing. Our partners are relying on digital tools, I don’t care how community-based you get, how far in the woods you get of a community, or a country, but that movement building work is happening more than ever with digital tools everywhere. And so throughout the COVID-19 crisis we’ve seen an even increase to that. So how movements are using, utilizing these digital tools because they’re home, “home,” and they’re in these spaces where they have to use these tools more than they have ever. They’re doing it to do convenings, like Zoom, but with maybe other, and additional applications.
They’re building out digital networks and finding communities online of which they can find safety and space, and we’re calling it the feminist technology movement, which are going to be critical if we’re going to have social, cultural and political change. And so what we’re hoping to do is that, where we find gaps, particularly in funding, but in other resources, for example, tools that can be used, we want to try to center women and girls so that we can make sure we get those resources to them, and that they can utilize them to create better opportunities and better solutions for women and girls in their own communities. At the same time we do realize that, and I’m sure you’ve seen, and your listeners have seen, that as more women start to do advocacy online they’re opening themselves up to a great deal of online harassments, cyber-attacks, and digital surveillance, and censorship, even from their own governments.
Global Fund for Women is going to continue working with other feminist activists and hopefully companies that find themselves in a position to be able to support, protecting them, demanding transparency from governments, holding corporates, even the tech industry in general, accountable for some of these needs, because we really feel like we need to disrupt, that’s a great word, and re-envision and reclaim technology and innovation so women can use this space in a way that’s not just for income creation, but for changing the inequities in our world.
Jennifer Simpson Carr: The work that you are doing is incredible, and the thought and the access that you are providing is amazing. I had the very good fortune of watching a few interviews that you’ve done, and I would encourage our listeners to visit your website and to learn more about you and the organization.
Where would you direct listeners if they would like to learn more about the Global Fund for Women, and about ways that they may be able to get involved?
Absolutely. When I came to Global Fund for Women, we were just releasing the Fundamental Film Series. Definitely go to globalfundforwomen.org, that’s an easy place to start and an easy thing to remember, and you’ll be able to link to it, but to really get a taste of what some of our partners are doing, I think the Fundamental Film Series is great, and that’s at, https://fundamental-film.com/, and there’s going to be five. It’s a series of film that has now won lots of awards. And it’s showing an activist working with movements in their country around a particular issue. We even have one from the US with Freedom Inc and Minnesota, that’s doing work around racial justice, and who knew that this reckoning would be happening now, but it’s also women in Pakistan that are fighting against child marriage, in Georgia, the country, fighting against LGBTQI persecution in that country, and Kenya around reproductive rights.
Especially for girls. There’s another one in Brazil that also looks at the intersection of racial justice with reproductive justice. And so there’s, I think that it’s a great opportunity to be able to see firsthand. These films are done by an Academy Award winning out of Pakistan and it’s so well done. And I think it gives you the idea of why movements is such an important part of the work that we do. But then I think generally more broadly, the globalfundforwomen.org website gives you lots of information about how you can get involved around the work that we do.
There’s a number of movements around the world that we’re focused on, and so you’ll get to see that firsthand, get to read about what they do. I also say for folks: philanthropy; learning how to give, what it means to give, how you show up in a space where you want to support justice, but you don’t want to tell people what to do. You want to be able to support their process through, and their journey, through justice and see how success happens. We also have a number of resources online too, to be able to help in that regard as well.
Jennifer Simpson Carr: That’s great. We will make sure in the transcript that we link to everything that you’ve mentioned. Latanya, as you know, a large portion of our listener base is comprised of lawyers, law firms, and individuals who work within the legal industry.
Are there opportunities for lawyers to get involved and support Global Fund for Women?
Thank you for asking that question. In fact, as we look at our new strategy moving forward in our organizational structure and how we can show up for many of the groups that we support around the world, we are continuously looking for pro bono support from law firms. We have been blessed in the past to have folks working with us on different aspects of our organizational structure, our finance capabilities, our fiscal sponsorships and work that we do for originations around the world. Even sometimes, simple things like human resources, technology and data safety that require us to meet certain principles, not only here in the U.S. but around the world.
The day we are releasing this episode is an exciting day to celebrate women around the world. I have to ask, what does International Women’s Day mean to you?
I love International Women’s Day, and in particular because it always comes right off the hills of Black History Month. So it’s this dual opportunities for me in particular to acknowledge and honor the incredible work of global feminist movements, and in particular black women who have oftentimes been invisible in history. So I love it. I go through, this time of year I change my playlist, it’s just an all-woman playlist. I do a lot of reaching back to look at what’s happened over the last year, we’ve lost some grates, but then for us, in this year, of course, looking back on the year of COVID, there’s been so much happening and so many opportunities to see how women show up for the world, quite frankly.
I take this time now really to reflect on that. And, of course, there’s lots of events that happen normally. So I’m able to connect with the network around International Women’s Day. But I think for all of us to think about global feminist movements around the world, the work they do every day to secure a world that we hope to see, if not for ourselves then for our children.
Jennifer Simpson Carr: Thank you. That’s a beautiful answer. And I want to thank you again, Latanya, for joining us today. We are so honored that you decided to join us as a guest and to celebrate International Women’s Day. And I hope that our listeners have enjoyed this episode. I certainly have enjoyed speaking with you.
Latanya Mapp Frett: Thank you so much, Jenn, it’s been my pleasure and happy International Women’s Day everyone.
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